6 Chicago Cubs An anemic offense may get well if Rondell White can figure out how to stay well

March 26, 2001

At first, the worst slump of Rondell White's life didn't seem so
terrible. After one game he was 0 for 4. After two he was 0 for
7. After three, 1 for 11. After four, 2 for 15.

Then, things really started to go downhill. A couple of hitless
games. A few 1 for 5s. A bad swing here, a good catch by an
opponent there. In no time White was in a 16-for-100 swoon. This
was in 1993, when White was an up-and-coming prospect with the
Double A Harrisburg (Pa.) Senators, who, to the dismay of the
parent Expos, didn't seem to be coming. "It was the most
frustrating time of my career," says White. "One night I got
home from the park, got on my knees and started crying. I said,
'Lord, let me play the way I know I can. I will pray to you
every day, whether things go good for me or not.'"

The following afternoon, White went 5 for 5. He hit .328 in 90
games with Harrisburg and got a late-season call-up to Montreal.
Ever since, White, who's now the Cubs' leftfielder, has been
praying before every game, but not for a screaming double, a home
run or a date with Halle Berry. Simply for health, guidance and
wisdom.

Pray was just what White, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on
his left knee in October, did on the morning of March 13, as he
was about to play his first spring game with Chicago. He asked
God to watch over him and give him strength. Who could blame him?
Over the course of his career, White has been to health what
Robert Downey Jr. is to the antidrug movement. In the past five
years he has endured seven stints on the disabled list, for
injuries ranging from a fractured right ring finger to a bruised
spleen to a strained right hamstring. "Part of the reason Rondell
gets injured is that he knows only one way to play," says manager
Don Baylor. "He always goes hard."

When he arrived in Chicago from Montreal in exchange for pitcher
Scott Downs last July, White was seen as the perfect addition to
a team in dire need of offensive oomph. Then he 1) failed to
drive in a run in his first 14 games and 2) ended his season on
Aug. 26, when he dislocated his left shoulder while sliding
headfirst into second base against the Dodgers. He played just 19
games for Chicago before suffering a typical ending to another
typically tough year. Chicago, meanwhile, scored only 764 runs,
11th best in the National League.

White spent this past off-season fighting back. He reported to
spring training the day after Thanksgiving--nearly three months
before pitchers and catchers were scheduled to show up. It was
an exciting time to be in Arizona: There
was...uhhhm...uhhh..."nothing to do," he says, "except work."
Five days a week White endured hours of lower-body weight
training and outfield sprints. "I'm stronger than I've ever
been," he says. "The Cubs traded for me because they wanted a
good hitter who can play all the time. I need to deliver on
that." The difference between the old White and the new one is
already apparent. "I don't recognize Rondell this spring," says
Baylor, "because it's the first time I have seen him not limping."

When healthy, White can bat anywhere from second to fifth in the
lineup. His resume: a .294 career average, 30-home-run power,
speed to steal 15 to 20 bases and a selective eye that yielded a
walk every 10.9 plate appearances last year. "He'll hit doubles
off the wall all day," says Baylor. "He's a beautiful guy to
watch with the bat."

White is worth rooting for because he is baseball's No. 1
ordinary guy. While many an athlete making $4 million lives
large with six Audis, four pools and a 400-room mansion, White
still lives in Gray, Ga., the Macon suburb where he grew up.
Asked whether he's close with his parents, White smiles widely.
"Close?" he says. "Heck, I live 200 yards away from them." White
shares a modest home with his older brother, Floyd Jr., an
aspiring computer programmer. The two spend much of their
leisure time at the local bowling alley, where gentle Rondell
becomes Mr. Competitive. He has a 155 average, with a 211 high
game. "Nobody wants to lose, because then you've gotta do
push-ups," he says. "Or sometimes you've gotta do a shot." He
giggles innocently--as if "shot" is a four-letter word. "Not too
often, though," he adds. "Usually, just push-ups. Nobody wants
to be hurting the next day."

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: ALLEN KEE When the fragile White has been free of nagging injuries, he has demonstrated the capability to hit for both average and power. COLOR PHOTO: CHICAGO SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHERS SOSA

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cubs

Good teams go into a season with one or two questions; the Cubs
have them at first base, catcher, centerfield, closer and at two
of the spots in their rotation. They finally got a real third
baseman in Bill Mueller, a contact hitter who'll be on base when
Sammy Sosa comes up. Mueller plays the hell out of third....The
Cubs complained that Mark Grace didn't have enough power, then
replaced him at first with Matt Stairs and Ron Coomer, two guys
who will have about the same power numbers without the on-base
percentage, average, defense and leadership that Grace gave
them....Ricky Gutierrez isn't a frontline shortstop....Second
baseman Eric Young is as good offensively as almost anyone at
that position. He's adequate defensively....What can you say
about Sosa, that he's not a good fielder? That's nitpicking.
He'll hit 60 and drive in 140, so who cares?...Corey Patterson
is a four-tool player, but he's not ready for big league
pitching. Damon Buford is a good centerfielder and has some pop
for a little guy.... Rondell White is a big bat. He can't throw,
but he's fine for Wrigley's short leftfield....Will Todd Hundley
ever be able to throw runners out? His arm strength is coming
back, but he just doesn't have the mechanics and
footwork....Kerry Wood still has velocity and the good curve and
slider....Jon Lieber has a good sinker and a hard
slider....Kevin Tapani knows how to pitch, but his stuff is
getting a little short....Tom Gordon has looked good in camp. If
he's healthy, he'll be a 40-save guy.

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 65-97 (sixth in NL Central)
Manager: Don Baylor (second season with Chicago)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

2B Eric Young R 72 .297 6 47 54
3B Bill Mueller[1] S-R 252 .268 10 55 4
RF Sammy Sosa R 4 .320 50 138 7
C Todd Hundley[1] S-R 85 .284 24 70 0
LF Rondell White R 101 .311 13 61 5
1B Matt Stairs[1] L-R 196 .227 21 81 5
SS Ricky Gutierrez R 221 .276 11 56 8
CF Damon Buford R 304 .251 15 48 4

BENCH

IF Ron Coomer[1] R 183 .270 16 82 2
OF Roosevelt Brown L-R 334 .352 3 14 0
C Joe Girardi R 330 .278 6 40 1
IF Julio Zuleta* (R) R 337 .311 26 94 5
IF Augie Ojeda (R) S-R 375 .221 2 8 0

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Jon Lieber 55 12 11 7.2 1.20 4.41
RH Kerry Wood 142 8 7 6.0 1.45 4.80
RH Kevin Tapani 156 8 12 6.5 1.30 5.01
RH Julian Tavarez[1] 133 11 5 5.7 1.48 4.43
RH Jason Bere [1][2] 201 12 10 5.5 1.59 5.47

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Tom Gordon[1][3] 82 0 2 11 1.64 5.60
LH Felix Heredia 220 7 3 2 1.35 4.76
RH Todd Van Poppel 281 4 5 2 1.48 3.75
RH Kyle Farnsworth 291 2 9 1 1.82 6.43
LH Jeff Fassero[1] 305 8 8 0 1.56 4.78
LH Will Ohman (R)[4] 317 6 4 3 1.25 1.89
RH Carlos Zambrano* (R) 348 2 5 6 1.66 3.97

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Triple A stats
[2]Combined AL and NL stats
[3]1999 stats
[4]Double A stats

"Gordon has looked good in camp. If he's healthy, he'll be a
40-save guy."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)